Sugar and cancer: What's the link?
Many popular diets target this simple carbohydrate as a dietary villain. The volume of information on sugar and health can be overwhelming, and sometimes misleading.
Concerned about sugar? You’re not alone.
Many popular diets target this simple carbohydrate as a dietary villain. The volume of information on sugar and health can be overwhelming and sometimes misleading.
“Carbohydrates, which break down into glucose, are the primary fuel source for your body. You require a normal level of glucose in your bloodstream to maintain body function,” says Erma Levy, a research dietitian in Behavioral Science at MD Anderson.
You get sugar naturally in foods like fruits, vegetables and dairy products, which are packed with nutrients like fiber, vitamins and minerals essential for a healthy diet.
Added sugars are a different story. Sugars that are added to foods and beverages translate to extra calories. Those added calories can have an impact on your health.
The problem with added sugar
While sugar doesn’t have metabolic qualities that cause weight gain, it does provide additional and unnecessary calories without additional nutritional benefits. This can result in weight gain.
The link between obesity and several types of cancer is well established. The American Institute for Cancer Research says consuming less sugary drinks and energy dense foods is among the top ways to reduce your cancer risk.
Energy-dense foods tend to be processed foods with sugar and fat to improve the taste. The result is more calories per ounce.
So how much added sugar is too much?
The American Heart Association recommends no more than 6 teaspoons of added sugar per day for women and 9 teaspoons per day for men. That adds up to about 100 calories for women and 150 calories for men.
Americans consume significantly more than that. The average person eats about 22 teaspoons of added sugar per day. That adds up to nearly 2,500 calories a week.
Tips for cutting added sugar
If you want to eat a healthy diet low in added sugar, our experts urge you to cut back on processed foods.
“You should consume whole foods and reduce processed foods whenever possible,” says Levy. “For example, a fresh peach is a whole food, but a canned peach in syrup is a processed food with added sugar.”
Tracking added sugar can be tricky, because manufacturers don’t list it by teaspoons on their labels. But taking the time to do it is a healthy choice.
Levy suggests several ways to trim sugar from your diet.
- Shop on the perimeter of the store. Whole foods like fresh fruits and vegetables are on the outer edges of the supermarket and provide more nutrients than processed foods.
- Keep a food log. Keeping track of what you eat and identifying those foods with added sugar will help you make healthier choices to reduce your sugar intake.
- Check labels. If sugar is one of the top three ingredients, think about making a better choice. Keep in mind that sweeteners come in a variety of names. Be on the lookout for names ending in -ose on the nutrition label (fructose, lactose, sucrose).
- Slowly taper the amount of sugar. Look for the food products you eat that have the highest sugar content and replace them with something healthier. For example, try a baked apple with some cinnamon instead of cake or pie for dessert. Also, try to put one less packet of sugar in your coffee or tea, and keep decreasing the amount of sugar over time.
- Cook from scratch. Making things from scratch gives you more control over your ingredients. And you can make healthy substitutions.
- Mind what you drink. Soda, sports and energy drinks can be loaded with sugar. So, check your beverage label closely. Also, watch the fruit juice. While it may not contain added sugar, the sugar in juice is concentrated, and many of the nutrients of the original whole food, like fiber, may have been removed. Try to drink more water. And for more flavor, add fresh cut fruit to your water glass.
The bottom line: Reducing added sugars is a good step in improving your diet, reducing your calorie intake and maintaining a healthy weight.
Request an appointment at MD Anderson's Lyda Hill Cancer Prevention Center online or call 877-632-6789.